Gather round children and let a REAL CRYPTID spin a yarn so thick you’ll drown in your own night sweats. It’s a harrowing tale of heroes and villains, truth and lies, oil and gas.
It began many years ago, before I was an old coot hunched over a typewriter, haha. It was during that creamy adolescence in the Oreo of life when I was no longer a boy, not yet a man, and all unicorn. My days were carefree. Like the rest of my unicorn family, I frolicked incessantly. I would buck about in rolling pastures of shimmering grass blades. Alone, with a partner, or in pods of three or more we’d frolic as soon as the sun crested the perky green hills and only after the last sliver of golden light ceded to inky night would we fall into a giggly pile. We were so happy.
It was carefree in the way that only fleeting things can be. In our special teenaged way we were raging against the dying of innocence. You see, once a unicorn’s horn grows six inches long, they must leave the idyll of youth behind and join the workforce.
As the waifish Carrie Bradshaw of the family, my horn was a mere four inches when Sparklebrat, with her stern diet of Vector cereal and ambrosia salad, hit six inches. It was an expected shock to the group that nonetheless rattled us down to our adamantium unicorn bones. With a tearful goodbye that was more tragic farewell fandango than fanciful frolic, she left our lives to find her own. Last I heard she was in Edmonton, working at one of its many donair joints, skewering the delicious meat tube ‘pon her noble prong.
We all missed Sparklebrat’s booming laughter and filthy humour, and our frolicking continued in a pasture that though still green, ‘twas just a little less so, under a sun’s shine that seemed so slightly dulled.
Colonel Sandwiches was the next to go. It seemed like overnight his horn sprang by a full inch and there we were again, sullenly prancing an exuberant choreography under ominous purple blue clouds. If Sparklebrat was a shock, Colonel Sandwiches was the indelible chill that follows. Colonel Sandwiches left to live an elusive life funded by the meager interest accrued from his unicorn treasure. He gallops unseen through the dark woods, appearing only for the briefest of moments in the moonstruck eyes of sleepy children.
Suddenly, so-longs were more frequent than not, and my family thinned. Our nighttime giggle piles grew hoarse, and I found my gaze lowering from the powerful and subtle glimmer of stars to the gaudy Calgary skyline on an encroaching horizon. In my mind’s woozy post frolic purgatory, I asked the remaining unicorns
“What could possibly make a city outshine the very galaxy it sits in?” “Grit” “Determination” “Jobs” “Economy” “Pipelines”
I went to sleep with smile, but only now as I write this do I recall the incongruous dreams that ravaged me that night. Skeletal birds untethered by earth’s natural poles loping through the air in drunkards’ circles. Destitute townships in hollowed out skull sockets. A shallow cemetery of filthy, neglected orphans whose rusty bone grindings rattled the thin silty layer that concealed them.
I awoke that morning with needle-sharp clarity and a six inch horn.
* * *
During the first few years I worked for Husky, my youth was little more than an unwelcome ghost. Working hours were vigilant and single minded, sleeping hours dense and dreamless. Time off was devoted to purging the binge. I would post up at Fuel by Earl’s, chasing whiskey and shooting sh*t in warm, bright, artificial world class light.
The camaraderie ran deep, more existential even than the days of my carefree adolescence. As an oil and gas worker the whole province had my back. I saw it everywhere: on hoodies and hats, on truck bumpers. Our new government had even set up a “War Room” to defend my very livelihood.
I was stable, I was productive, I daresay I was excellent at my job. So excellent, in fact, before long I traded in my hard hat (with a hole cut in the top to make room for my horn), protective goggles, and thermal gloves for an ill-fitting collared shirt and a tie with little muscle cars on it. Sans a farewell unicorn frolic, on my last night my human coworkers said “goodbye, we love you” by pulling my bedsheets tight over my body and pummeling me with soap bars stuffed into socks.
And so I found myself at a desk. The hours were better, the work was safer, and for the first time in a long time my mind could wander: Sparklebrat standing statue still, proudly stabbing a shaved meat tube, glistening with ambrosial drippings. Colonel Sandwiches’ midnight slideshow silhouettes launching a tent full of camping children into tizzies of imagination and wonder. And me, Virgil, scheduling analyst, glorious soldier of Alberta oil and gas.
I was naively excited in October when it was announced Husky would merge with Cenovus. The merger would save over a billion dollars and increase oil production by well over half a million barrels. What’s good for business is good for us, and what’s good for us is good for Alberta. Besides, we’ve got a war room, a best last line of defense in the world’s war against O&G.
* * *
On March 16, along with 1000 others, I was fired.
Cenovus already had a unicorn, thus rendering my position redundant I guess. Laid off. Fired. Sh*tcanned. Folded into the pogey perogy. While my instantly dried out mouth and chapped lips may have said
"Oh, I understand completely. You’re right, business IS business. No, I’ll be fine, haha! Why yes, I AM honoured to make this sacrifice so that your billions in savings may go to executives and shareholders”
my mind was a roiling fury of righteous epithets. These fools don’t know where they are! Just ask the hoodies, ask the hats, ask the truck bumpers! Ask the Oilers, ask the Oil Kings, ask the Flames! Ask anyone! YOU’RE! IN! OIL! COUNTRY! And the first rule of oil country is you don’t f*ck with oil countrymen. The second rule of oil country is you’re not allowed in the comments section until you’re a white guy wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap sitting in your truck.
After clearing my desk, I climbed into my Ram and drove away from the life I thought was all mine and would be mine forever. I could taste the bitter tang of an upcoming righteous tirade against those who assaulted the human backbone of Alberta’s economy. This is a government that wasted $1.7 billion on an imaginary pipeline, just imagine what they’ll do when real workers are concerned. Nothing is off the table, injunctions, boycotts, dare I say… space lasers?!
Before long I pulled roadside and balanced my phone delicately on two upturned hooves. The War Room had sniffed out enemies of Alberta’s world class energy sector and enlisted Premier Jason Kenney to lead the vindicating bloodbath. Even I was surprised by their promptness, $30 million well spent!
Kenney took to the podium. He was in top form, passionate and red faced as he sputtered the plot of a children’s movie starring Bigfoot. Did… did Bigfoot do this to me? No, no Bigfoot had nothing to do with this. Bigfoot… isn’t real. Maybe he’s using this as metaphorical context for the layoffs.
He was midway through, and still talking about a f*cking movie. Maybe he’s laying the groundwork for provincial filming incentives. Maybe? Maybe. If maybes were babies, I’d be Octomom by now. Alberta oil and gas lost 1000 jobs, and Jason Kenney was up in arms defending a fictional American oil company. Right then and there, on the shoulder of the QE2 in my blue Dodge Ram, I wept. I wept for my colleagues, I wept for Sparklebrat and Colonel Sandwiches, I wept for my future.
Alberta’s Premier was weaving his opposition to Bigfoot into allegations of foreign brainwashing when I pushed my seat back into full recline. In the rearview mirror I finally saw myself as I’m truly seen. For all I was, and all I did, I was no more real than Bigfoot. A convenient myth. A disposable means only to serve the Premier's autoerotic power hungry narrative being carved into the mountains themselves. My proud horn folded over like an orca’s dorsal fin.
The rising tide of unicorn tears began to subsume me, I turned on the heady gust of dual full blast air conditioners and frothy waves started slapping my torso. Cold, relentless air was stripping my flesh like meat from a chicken wing. The saline tears ate up and dissolved my bones. A spigot leak sprang at the rear passenger’s side door and I, now but an ocean of tears, splashed roadside and trickled to a natural bouquet of wild ditch roses. In my salty formlessness I sucked the moisture from the soil for an excruciating two years, and watched the roses wilt, petal by petal, until all that remained were thorny, grasping fingers.
3x4, acrylic on canvas $30 million OBO